Monday, February 25, 2008

Thoughts of the last 12 months....

Firstly I must thank Tim for suggesting I write down my story thus far.

I started to write down some ideas and ended up with this novel….. skip bits as required. It was great for me to see how far I’d come.

In 2006, I decided I wanted to do a marathon before I was 40, but my feet and legs were always injured. I thought it would be impossible. I started reading about the body/food/health and stumbled over a barefoot running site (barefooted). All that I read said that it was ok for some runners, but not for overpronators. I was a severe overpronator with hyper flexible joints.. not a good candidate. So I figured ‘what the heck, I’ll give it a go’. Nothing else was working.

Before I started barefoot, I read about foot strike (heel/toe/midfoot) and tested myself out. Chronic heel striker… painful when barefoot. So the first thing I did was to change my style. I did this for the first couple of weeks while walking barefoot. I practiced putting my foot down properly every step I took.. I felt like a total idiot and it was very very slow. I watched how much I rolled in and how this hurt. I realised my ankles and feet were weak as water. So I learned to walk at 38.

I started mid January 2007. I just took my shoes off and walked for about 5km.. Fast walking, on the grass, bitumen, concrete etc. My feet hurt like crazy. The soles of my feet were tender and my arches ached. So I went out the next day and did it again. Just walking. I did that for about a week, going between 5-10k a day. Then on the second week I added in some gentle grass runs at the end of the walk. Only about 2-3km. After this distance I noticed I was reverting to rolling in and hell striking, meaning it hurt and slowed me down. It took a long while to retrain my brain to do it properly. Once I found I was getting lazy, I would stop and walk for a bit, then resume running. I was doing something every day barefoot and I made sure I went everywhere, except work, barefoot.

By the third week I was doing 5k every 3 or 4 days barefoot. Bitumen seemed easier than concrete. I stuck mostly to grass still though. I'd just run beside the footpaths on the grass.

At this stage I still wore shoes (Frees) when I raced at my club as it was cross country, and I was worried people would laugh at me. Turned out I was right about that. The shoes seemed hot and heavy even at this early stage. At club I was only racing 3.4km handicap race. I went from 22minutes down to 17 mins in a few months.

Each time I finished I’d soak my feet in water and bath stuff for about ½ hour, pick out the glass, splinters, prickles etc and then put nurofen gel on ANYTHING that hurt. I massaged my feet every day and calves as much as I could. I did this for about a month, until my feet got hard and didn’t need it anymore. I also stretched religiously. Calves, Achilles and arches. I would do it about 10 times a day. I should do it more now, but I’m lazy. Actually squatting on the ground and resting, gently, on your heels is a great stretch for the whole calf/achilles/arch. Lean your elbows on your knees and push forward gently to get a massive achilles/calf stretch. Not socially acceptable, but very comfortable.
One thing I noticed was that my calves were like rocks. When I first started I was a bit disappointed as I thought I’d traded one lot of injuries for another lot. After about 3-4 weeks my calves were so tight I was in a lot of pain. I went to a good remedial massage therapist and told her my story. She was amused, but not discouraging. She gave me the massage from hell but told me my muscles were well hydrated and certainly not damaged from the unusual activity. My physio backed this up when I also went to see her, just to make sure I was getting good advice.

Another problem is toes. My second toe on each foot felt like it was broken. This happened after the Sydney Morning Herald Half Marathon. The first joint of each toe was swollen and painful. I kept running. It seemed to get better with time, though they hurt to bend for about 3 months. I think it is just your feet getting used to working again. Those joints are where the first pressure of each foot strike is borne. I think I was landing too far forward as well, so I have adjusted to a more mid foot strike. Even now this is where I will hurt, if at all. It doesn’t last long these days, just an overnight type thing.

Feet swelling. Here’s a pretty one. I first noticed this doing Woodford to Glenbrook trail run in Vibram Five Fingers. My feet had no idea about rocks and this was 25k of rocks. My feet were bruised, swollen and in pain. I sat with ice packs under my feet and used nurofen gel. It took about 3 days for them to be normal again. This has also subsided with time, and now I don’t get too much swelling. Great North Walk 100's was about 24hrs of swelling, but not much pain.

I asked Max (a fellow barefooter) about both these issues (‘broken’ toes and swelling). He confirmed that he experienced both of them, but that they got better as your feet got stronger. So I carried on.

But I digress….. back to the other bit….

At this stage (about 6 weeks into barefoot) I had a 24 week beginner program leading into the marathon on July 30, so I did 95% of it barefoot.

It was an ‘easy week, then hard week’ program. So eg: 25, 40, 28, 45, 30, 50 etc. Those are k/week, 5 days a week running. My longest run during that program was 35k but I had to do it in Frees, as it was just too cold for barefoot.

My first goal was Sydney Morning Herald Half in May, which fit into my program. Previous years I had run only 2 halves, one took me 2hr45, the other 2hr38. Both of those hurt so much that I cried running at times. Hip pain, knee pain, ankle pain, tendon pain. I ran the SMH in 2h08 (30 min PB), barefoot, with NO pain. I cried at the end I was so happy.

Wearing shoes, I could barely ever run under 7min/km. 10k times were about 70-75. 5k was 31mins if I flogged myself and didn’t walk for 3 days after. I know a lot of people will say it was fitness, but I know it was pain. I had tried to do programs before, but I couldn’t do more than 10k without needing a week off after. 4 City to surfs, all around 100mins… always painful.

Last year I did 5k in 26mins, 10k in 58, 21k in 2.08 and marathon (never mind the time) all barefoot.

Last year I did the C2S again, but time was the same, as I ran with my girls. It didn’t hurt though. The marathon (July) I did the first 12k in vibrams, then switched to bare feet. I run faster with no shoes, though I admit I’m never FAST.
I once suffered a recurrence of the old tendonitis injury, about 10 days out from the marathon. Rest rest rest, ice, massage, nurofen and it was good in 4-5 days. I feel it twinge from time to time, so I take extra care with foot placement.

Going up lots of hills, eg 6 Foot, GNW means your calves take a beating. Your heel has to reach so much further to touch the ground, due to no heel support. I try to stretch extra during those type of runs.

2007 saw me do 2 marathons, a stack of HM’s, 10km races, Trailwalker, GNW, Fat ass runs etc. Before this I could only do the City 2 Surf and one HM each year, then I needed 2 months injury recovery. I used to go to physio 2 times a week and get taped up before any 10k + runs. Now I go to say hi to her and tell her where I ran last. I still pop in for a massage if I’m doing a few huge weeks in a row.

Another bonus to barefoot: no blisters. Long events where your feet are wet mean blisters, but the skin on my feet is too hard to blister. It just peels off… gross but not painful. On trailwalker I just scraped some skin off, put my Frees back on and kept moving. I got one blister in the last 4 hours, between my toes, when I decided (stupidly) to wear some socks. No room to move my toes and my feet got all hot.

I won’t go back to wearing shoes for running or walking. I will wear something in the bush to stop sticks and stones breaking the skin and also because night is dangerous without something on your feet. Vibrams will do me I think. They are so versatile. Today I just stepped on the heel bit and ran with ‘slippers’. Rocks and dirt got in a bit, but I only stopped twice to pick a rock out. They felt so good I might do that every time! Also I had to grip with toes going up really steep sections, but that just meant better traction and less chance of tripping.

I will not worry about all the naysayers who tell me my feet and legs and hips and back will be ruined by not wearing shoes. 12 months uninjured is good enough proof for me. I’m convinced I’m doing my body a favour by leaving the shoes behind. The most I’ll come at is Frees if absolutely required. I’m also prepared to not get upset when people laugh at me, call me a freak or tell me I’m just plain wrong.

I agree, nod and go running.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Six Foot Track Walk 08

After years of reading and hearing about it, I decided to do it the easy way! 2 days on the track, camping in the middle at Alum River. The running club we belong to takes a group out each year on Australia Day long weekend.

Both my girls (11 and 13) had worked hard and run harder to prove their ability to slog it out for 45k over 2 days, and I was thrilled they wanted to come. They had 2 friends with them, so a group of 4 younguns formed for the weekend.

Happy that the kids were walking safely with others, I ran from the start to Alum River, then back to meet the kids and run into camp with them. This gave me a total of 30km for the first day on the track. I had intended to run the second day as well, but opted to walk the whole way with my girls. I'm glad I did, it was a great experience to share with them and something we'll talk about for years.

I went out on a limb on this occasion and wore the Vibram Five Fingers on the track. It was wet, slippery, rocky, harsh trail, with lots of river and creek crossings. The vibrams did well, and my feet were fine after 30k, though it was COLD putting the wet rubber shoes on my bare feet in the early hours of Sunday morning! By about 15km on the second day, I'd had enough of shoes, so wore thongs for the remaining sections. This leaves me undecided about the 6foot race in March.... Free's or Vibram's?? And will I make the cutoff for the race??

This weekend was one of the most enjoyable times I've spent in many years. Having my daughters out there with me, talking as we walked, seeing the incredible sights in this magnificent part of Australia...doesn't get any better than this.